Incentivizing Responses to Self-report Questions in Perceptual Deterrence Studies: An Investigation of the Validity of Deterrence Theory Using Bayesian Truth Serum

Thomas A. Loughran, Ray Paternoster, Kyle J. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: Criminological researchers want people to reveal considerable private information when utilizing self-report surveys, such as involvement in crime, subjective attitudes and expectations, and probability judgments. Some of this private information is easily accessible for subjects and all that is required is for individuals to be honest, while other information requires mental effort and cognitive reflection. Though researchers generally provide little or no incentive to be honest and thoughtful, it is generally assumed that subjects do provide honest and accurate information. We assess the accuracy of deterrence measures by employing a scoring rule known as the Bayesian truth serum (BTS)—that incentivizes honesty and thoughtfulness among respondents.

Method: Individuals are asked to report on self-report offending and estimates of risk after being assigned to one of two conditions: (1) a group where there is a financial incentive just for participation, and (2) a BTS financial incentive group where individuals are incentivized to be honest and thoughtful.

Results: We find evidence that there are some important differences in the responses to self-reporting offending items and estimates of the probability of getting arrested between the groups. Individuals in the BTS condition report a greater willingness to offend and lower estimates of perceived risk for drinking and driving and cheating on exams. Moreover, we find that the negative correlation between perceived risk and willingness to offend that is often observed in scenario-based deterrence research does not emerge in conditions where respondents are incentivized to be accurate and thoughtful in their survey responses.

Conclusion: The results raise some questions about the accuracy of survey responses in perceptual deterrence studies, and challenge the statistical relationship between perceived risk and offending behavior. We suggest further exploration within criminology of both BTS and other scoring rules and greater scrutiny of the validity of criminological data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-707
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 16 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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